Ukrainian forces have attacked several Russian military and merchant ships in the Black Sea, widening the battlefield in early August.
On the night of August 2, the Ukrainians attacked the Russian merchant vessel MV Sparta IV. A day later, they struck and seriously damaged the Russian Navy landing ship Olenegorsky Gornyak. Finally, on August 4, they attacked and disabled the Russian merchant tanker MT Sig.
The attacks interrupted Russian naval operations in the Black Sea and have the potential to influence fighting on the ground.
Attacks on Russian Ships by Ukraine
The Ukrainians used unmanned surface vessels packed with explosives.
The Olenegorsky Gornyak has suffered the most serious damage, with a serious list of about 30 degrees that indicates several flooded compartments.
“Routinely assigned to Russia’s Northern Fleet, the [Olenegorsky Gornyak] has augmented the BSF since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has often ferried military and civilian traffic between Russia and occupied Crimea when the Kerch Bridge has been disrupted due to attacks,” British Military Intelligence stated.
The other two vessels are merchant ships used for military purposes.
“Although civilian-flagged, MT Sig and MV Sparta IV have long been contracted to ship fuel and military supplies between Russia and Syria,” British Military Intelligence assessed.
Because of the fighting in Ukraine, Russian warships have been blocked from passing through the Bosporus Strait and thus cannot reach the Mediterranean Sea. Moscow has instead relied on these ostensibly merchant ships to resupply its forces in the Middle East.
“The attacks show that USV operations are increasingly a major component of modern naval warfare and can be turned against the weakest links of Russia’s sea supply lanes,” British Military Intelligence added.
The Russian Navy and the War in Ukraine
The Russian Navy has played a secondary, supporting role in the conflict. Through its Black Sea Fleet, the Russian Navy started the war by acting as a diversionary force in the south of Ukraine. Moscow had amassed what looked like an invasion fleet with the apparent intent of landing near Odesa and capturing Ukraine’s third-largest city and biggest port.
However, the Russian ground forces’ lack of progress on land quickly canceled any plans for a large-scale amphibious operation. Less than two months after the invasion, on April 14, 2022, the Ukrainian military — aided by U.S. targeting data — struck with two Neptune anti-ship missiles and sank the Russian guided-missile cruiser Moskva in the Black Sea. The loss of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet flagship sent shockwaves throughout the Russian national security community and made clear to all that the Russian Navy would play no more than a secondary role in the Kremlin’s so-called special military operation in Ukraine.
After the sinking of the Moskva, Russian warships retreated to their harbors on the Crimean Peninsula and the southern coast of Russia. They have been leaving port only occasionally to launch ballistic and cruise missiles against Ukrainian urban centers and critical infrastructure as part of Moscow’s terror campaign against Ukraine.
Now that the Kremlin has pulled out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allowed for the safe passage of merchant ships carrying grain to the rest of the world, the Russian Black Sea Fleet has once more deployed warships to the area in a likely attempt to intercept any vessels heading to Ukraine.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.
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